After the crowd filed out of Morty's Comedy Joint on Sunday night, owner Ted Pincus stepped onstage to address the staff. Pincus, who lives in Annapolis, Md., told them he'd driven across 86th Street and 96th Street on this trip to Indianapolis and was dismayed by the number of empty storefronts he saw.
Now, of course, there's another vacant space: Morty's. The club at 3625 E. 96th St. closed Sunday after a three and a half-year run in which it hosted big names such as Robert Klein, Jeffrey Ross and D.L. Hughley.
"It's just economics, that's all," Pincus told a couple of dozen employees, some of whom took their own turn at the mike to talk about their experiences. Some broke down and cried, others smiled and shared their recollections. And since this was a funeral of sorts, and they didn't know a reporter was in the room, we'll keep their comments private.
Publicly, it had been a largely unsentimental evening. About a dozen area comics who'd performed at Morty's over the years came out to do short sets before headliner Dan Wilson closed down the joint with a routine that included his hilarious imitation of midget wrestlers. The subject of Morty's closing rarely came up.
The 315-capacity club was about two-thirds full for what ironically was a free show.
"Not enough people paying enough to come in, that's what it comes down to," Pincus said in an interview prior to the show. "2009 started off terrific and then kept heading south in February and just kept going and going and going."
Pincus financed a large part of the business, which his son Andrew and Andrew's friend Eric Shorts opened in August 2006 in the location of the former Funny Bone comedy club.
Andrew Pincus is a bankruptcy lawyer who lives in New Jersey. Shorts, an Indianapolis native, managed the club until September, when there was an economic falling out.
Hank McGill, the first comic ever onstage at Morty's and the last one, too, since he was emcee for the final show, said the upheaval took its toll on the operation.
"Financially it hit us hard, and emotionally it hit us hard too," said McGill, who worked for Morty's as "suggestion specialist and song-and-dance man."
And that job title meant? "I helped out, gave them some suggestions and advice," he explained. "Obviously, it didn't work out too well. It's been a pleasure working here. I'm going to miss the club a lot."
McGill said he's heard that an improv group will be taking over the space. Ted Pincus said nothing is imminent. He'll entertain offers "if any. If they don't come in the next couple of weeks, then we'll liquidate."
"We had a good run," Pincus said. "It wasn't like it was six months. We had three and a half years. I think we beat the average for startup businesses. But we didn't make the high end. I hope people continue to frequent the other clubs in town."